In another celebration of all things vintage, my events company Kick the Gong Around threw a party last Saturday night in Shanghai called The Big Speakeasy, featuring burlesque dancers, a couple of circus performers, and a Chinese Charlie Chaplin. To our surprise, by 11 p.m. the venue was totally jammed—at one point the wait for the bar was forty-five minutes—forcing us for the first time ever to close our doors and turn people away. Three months ago this never would have happened, but retro-themed events seem to have undergone a recent meteoric rise in popularity over here. Every time I check the events listings pages, another twenties-themed costume cocktail event or swing dancing soiree is being hosted somewhere, typically branded to the nines by Western whiskey and vodka firms. Baz Luhrmann and his scramble to release The Great Gatsby in China last month is probably responsible, I suspect.
It seems funny to me that The Great Gatsby‘s portrayal of glitzy excess is precisely the sort of thing the Chinese Communist party would have disdained not very long ago. But now, all the opulent jewelry, flashy cars, etc. seem oddly…well…Chinese. It’s also interesting that many Chinese people are still seduced, or certainly intrigued, by F. Scott Fitzgerald’s romantic expression of the twenties vision of the American dream. Who would have guessed? Now all Luhrmann needs to do is remake Marlene Dietrich’s Shanghai Express (1932) and he’d have himself a proper Chinese box-office smash. Fingers crossed we’d be booked to do the after-party (I’m waiting for the call, Baz!).
Photo: Courtesy of George Wyndham